Last April started the dreaded month of state testing. A month is not an exaggeration either—my juniors took the ACT and the writing AZ Merit tests the first week, the reading test for 2 days the next week, and finally the math test for another 2 days the week after. Then came the final week of makeup testing for students who had missed a day. If you have not experienced this testing marathon first hand, you can certainly imagine how unmotivated students are by the end of it.
Even before the actual testing last year, I had to prepare students for the test. It was not just showing students the sample test so they were familiar with the online portal, it was explaining to high school students why they should take this test seriously. Since AZ Merit did not count for a grade or graduation, the best I could do every year was to explain that students’ tests counted for our school letter grade, so I needed them to do their best to show people what an amazing school we are.
Of course that explanation did very little for some (most) of my students. As I walked around and proctored the test, I saw students finished in 5 minutes, heads down and ready for a nap. There was not anything I could do, and my success as a teacher was being measured by those 5 minutes of button clicking.
This year is a much different story. Because of the menu of assessments, my district was allowed to choose the ACT as our state test, and the whole game changed. 1 month of testing has been whittled down to 1 day! The teacher in me does a happy dance every time I think about getting 3 weeks of instructional time back; it is so much extra time I should be able to teach a whole new unit this year.
In order to get our students prepared, my school ran a weekly ACT Bootcamp. We spent time each week getting students familiar with the test format and giving them time to do practice questions then talk about the answers. The best part of this year is that my students know the ACT is tied to college admissions and scholarships, so I did not have to explain once why they need to try their best.
The difference between last year and this year is going to be night and day, and not just because of the test, but because the test now matters. I know my students are stressed going into next week and will sit anxiously in their seats on test day waiting to begin. I know some of my students will do better than others. I know a single test is not a complete measure of my students’ abilities. But above all, I know my students are going to try this year, and that is about as much as I can ask for.